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Gov't's emergency anti-sexual harassment measures feared to restrict reporting

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, second from left, delivers a speech in a meeting of the government's Headquarters for Creating a Society in which All Women Shine, at the prime minister's office, on June 12, 2018. At left is Seiko Noda, minister in charge of women's empowerment. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The government's emergency measures announced in response to a case of the Finance Ministry's top bureaucrat sexually harassing a journalist have prompted doubts about the measures' efficacy in preventing sexual harassment and concerns that they may restrict journalists from obtaining access to government sources.

On April 24, then Administrative Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda resigned from his post even though he denied the sexual harassment allegations made against him by a female TV Asahi reporter, arguing that the scandal had made it impossible for him to carry out his duties at the ministry.

However, the Finance Ministry on April 27 acknowledged that Fukuda had indeed sexually harassed the reporter and slapped him with a pay cut, effectively reducing his retirement pay by 1.41 million yen. On May 9, officials at the ministry underwent a training course designed to prevent sexual harassment.

The government's new emergency sexual harassment prevention measures were drawn up by Seiko Noda, minister in charge of women's empowerment, and were finalized at a June 12 meeting of the Headquarters for Creating a Society in which All Women Shine, chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The main pillars of the measures include requiring division chiefs and senior staff at government ministries and agencies to undergo sexual harassment prevention training, and publicizing the existence of sexual harassment contact points at ministries and agencies not just internally, but also externally.

In addition, the establishment of forums in which government organizations can communicate with press clubs, and the establishment of the like in which the Cabinet Office can communicate with the Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association, the Japan Commercial Broadcasters Association (JBA), and public broadcaster NHK were incorporated into the emergency measures. At a June 12 press conference, Noda assured, "The forums are not meant to restrict reporting by any means. We are hoping they will serve as a place for an exchange of views that will contribute to the establishment and maintenance of a robust environment in which journalists can do their jobs."

Attorney Sanae Tanaka, who is well-versed in issues surrounding sexual harassment, sees the new measures as having certain aspects that are worthy of praise, such as the requirement for senior staff to undergo sensitivity training. However, she also sees the measures' shortcomings. "I'm suspicious of the government's efforts to create forums for dialogue with press clubs and employers' associations," she said. "If the government really wants to know what's going on in the field, they should first be asking female journalists. We can't deny the possibility that the arrangement, contrary to Noda's intentions, will bring about restrictions on journalists' access to sources and reporting."

Doshisha University professor Jun Oguro, who was formerly a reporter at the news agency Kyodo News, also expressed concern over how the measures could lead to restrictions on reporting. "If meeting with a source one-on-one or meeting with a source at night is brought up as problematic in one of those forums, restrictions could be placed on reporting under the pretext of 'human rights protection,'" he said. "Reporting methods and sexual harassment, which is a human rights issue, should not be considered in an intertwined manner."

(Japanese original by Ken Aoshima, City News Department)

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